Why are there no old movies on TV anymore?

22:26, Jun 12 2012

Why are there no old movies on TV anymore?

Television first sparked the fire for movies in me. When I was young there were always old movies on television. If you were around in the day, you could always find a black and white classic. They were not the best known movies, but you could stumble upon the more obscure films by actors like John Wayne or Lucille Ball. I remember discovering classics like Topper and Gold Diggers of 1933 or oddities like the 5,000 Fingers of Dr T. In the 1980s, afternoon television was a treasure trove of monochrome delights. If you turn on the television in the afternoon now all you find is Dr Phil and Katy Perry selling miracle make up. It ain't the same.

There also used to be seasons of classic movies. In 1980s Britain, where I grew up, there would be an Alfred Hitchcock season every Christmas. I remember getting my ten-year-old mind blown by Rear Window, The Birds and North by Northwest. I wasn't so keen on Marnie though. The wonders of our Betamax video meant I could rewatch these films endlessly over and over. My mother tells me that as a child I would take apart my pram to see how it worked. As a teenager, I took apart old movies to see how they worked.

A television season also kickstarted my lifelong love of Woody Allen. The season included Manhattan, Annie Hall, Love and Death and Sleeper. I was at an impressionable age and my eyes were wide open.

Then there was Moviedrome. Every week, cult film director Alex Cox (Repo Man, Sid & Nancy) would introduce a slightly leftfield classic. Moviedrome really baked my noodle. You can see a list of films included in Moviedrome here. It was where I first discovered The Wicker Man, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (both versions), The Man Who Fell to Earth, Don't Look Now, Brazil, Terminator, Cape Fear, Les Diaboliques, Escape from New York, Darkman, Logan's Run, Targets and Carrie.

Quite a list. Pretty much every one of those films has stayed with me and many sparked an interest in particular directors like John Carpenter, Nicholas Roeg or Sam Raimi. And don't even get me started on The Wicker Man.

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Where would you find something like Moviedrome now? The nearest thing I can think of is the Sunday night movie on Four, but this leans perilously close to camp rather than cult. It's Flashdance rather than Big Wednesday.

This stuff is important. How are people supposed to discover these films without careful curation? I can't imagine seeking out cult movie like Two-Lane Blacktop as a child without the aid of something like Moviedrome.

Wouldn't it be great if someone like Vincent Ward or Roger Donaldson curated a season of cool movies every Sunday night?

Am I dreaming? Are old movies just not ratings grabbers?

Anybody out there know why they have been excised from our screens? Is it the rise of the multi-channel Sky world? Does the availability of movies on DVD make TV a less important place to discover classics?

I was talking to a friend about this the other day. He said that television is directed entirely at young people now, so old movies have been scrapped.

"But we watched old movies when we were kids,'' I said.

"Yeah, but we're not normal,'' he replied.

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